A business plan has a number of major elements or sections. Each of these serves a particular purpose in the overall direction of your firm and plan. The list below identifies and briefly describes each of the documents or document categories that will make up your plan.
They are presented in the order in which they typically appear. Don't feel constrained to follow this exact format if another way makes more sense due to the nature of your firm. For example, the financial portion of a plan for an organization with a 20-year track record is much more important (and comprehensive) than the financial portion of a startup's plan.
The relative mix of product and services to be offered can also affect the content of a plan. Issues relating to inventory, production, storage, etc., become less significant as the product/service mix moves toward a purely service model. For example, a organization that relies on the services of professional employees would provide substantial details about attracting, acquiring and retaining these key employees.
Sections of a Typical Plan…
There is no requirement that these items need to be created or worked on in the order shown. In fact, you will likely find yourself having to switch focus to consider the impact that one part of the plan has on another. Conventional wisdom has it that the executive summary, which is preceded only by the cover sheet and table of contents, should be prepared after the rest of the plan is complete. A general outline for a plan is:
Executive Summary: usually written last and summarizes and provides the reader with an overview.
The Business: describe the company, trade name, vision, mission, ethics, goals and legal structure.
Products & Services: outputs, sales mix, costs and profits, expansion of services and product lines and product/service life cycle.
Industry Analysis: trends, demand outlook, barriers to entry and growth, impact of innovation and technology, impact of economy, government and financial health of the industry.
Market Analysis: trends, size, competition analysis, projected market share and decisions on products and services.
Marketing Strategy: location, distribution channels, sales, pricing, tools: networking, circles of influence, internet, brochures, sales systems and database.
Management, Operations & Organization: organizational structure, responsibilities and support (professional services).
Implementation Plan: staff, staffing issues, systems, communication, bookkeeping, equipment, software, office, furniture, fixtures, land and buildings, research & development.
Potential Risks and Downfalls (Contingency Plan): identify risks (liability, contract termination etc.) and plan to reduce or eliminate identified risks or threats.
Financial: start up costs, cash flow sensitivity analysis, cash flow and expenses, etc.
It pays to at least mention all the major issues listed above, even the ones that are relatively less significant to your particular idea. Someone who is reading your plan will be more confident about your assessment of the situation if you identify such issues and resolve them, however brief a section might be.
For example, if you plan to work alone and perform all services personally, you might note that you anticipate no need to hire employees or engage independent contractors if you succeed at the levels projected in the plan. However, if you plan to show growth beyond your personal capacity, then take the time to explain how you plan to cope with the growth and recruiting the talent you will need.
Remember, be careful not to raise any questions in the minds of your audience that are not resolved somewhere within the plan document.
Greg Balanko-Dickson is a Business Performance Coach, Author and Entrepreneur.